Arcadia Spectacular 10th Anniversary in London review

The giant, fire-breathing Arcadia spider, famous for its annual appearance at Glastonbury, touched down in London for two days of house, techno and bass over the early May bank holiday. The two-day festival included the collective’s flagship metamorphasis show plus new indoor concept The Reactor with Leftfield, Rudimental, Noisia and Sven Vath among the acts. Mike Barnard was there on Sunday, May 6th to see how the party translated from Worthy Farm to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

There’s a genuine mystique about the Arcadia show.

The Arcadia area is a firm favourite at Glastonbury, serving up after-hours excitement with a mix of music, performance art and pyrotechnics that attracts huge crowds looking for entertainment when the main stages close. Relocating that experience into a two-day festival in London where their giant spider is the focus of attention was a real test of its popularity, but, the blazing sun, unique audio-visual shows and plenty of bass music ensured a little piece of Worthy Farm was recreated in London.

We rocked up early doors just before 1pm when DJ Vadim was providing a warm-up set from the DJ booth in the middle of the spider. Armed with a couple of complimentary drinks vouchers like everyone else who arrived before 1.30pm, we had a meander around the site to take note of seating areas, bars and food options while taking in the scale of the spider yet saving a peak at Arcadia’s new indoor stage, The Reactor, for later. With Vadim’s bass throbs geared towards laid back vibes, we took the opportunity to fuel up with some food and grabbed a bench to chow down on a mix of wraps and pad thai - all delicious.

Ed Solo b2b Serial Killaz and Dre Skull b2b Jubilee with a Mixpak showcase followed as our group swelled around the tables and we got into the mindset to start enjoying the festival proper, aptly hearing a rendition of ‘Ready or Not’ as we galvanised. Our first port of call was The Reator stage - the new indoor concept from Arcadia - that promised three, five-minute showcases throughout the day amongst the drum & bass. While it was tough entering the hot, sweaty (and, a little smelly) space as Culture Shock brought an end to their set, we were suitably impressed with the Triple Helix show which saw aliens with green lasers shooting out of their eyes contort themselves to dark beats above the central DJ booth while blue lasers created a cage around them.

We burst out for air straight after, promising ourselves to check out another of The Reactor’s shows, but in dire need of a thurst-quencing drink. The Gin Bar ended up being our go-to destination then and for much of the afternoon with its superiour selection of gins compared to the main bar and the right accompaniments for each. A stop by the mobile Bug stage saw Trojan Soundsystem rocking with the reggae, then we ducked into The Reactor for Network. The second show saw three people covered in small mirrors reflecting light around the tent as they danced above spotlight like human mirrorballs - again with a ruthless beat coupled to their every move. Again, we watched the show and made an escape, however the we got the feeling Arcadia were building to something impressive in The Reactor later in the day.

We emerged back into the sun to catch the end of the Digital Mystikz of Coki and Mala’s dubstep which had got the crowd on their feet, bopping beneath in two of its three sides. We took up position on the one side that was sparsely populated as TQD got set to add their punchy basslines to the wonkiness, which quickly filled up when those paying attention realised the decks were facing across our side - a smart move by the organisers.

TQD littered their set with their familiar ident, using it to build up anticipation for their first drop and throwing it in for some added cheers for major dancefloor bombs such as remixes of ‘Renegade Master’ and ‘In for the Kill’. Soon the spider was enjoying a 360 array of arms in the air and, the sun in descent, the cooling heat ensured a more energetic dancefloor. That vibe continued with Preditah and Bassboy going back-to-back for more bassline goodness - dressed in matching Nike t-shits and shorts (props to Preditah’s turquoise and pink colour combo) - which included a rude remix of ‘Toxic’ and the always-delightful ‘Freed From Desire’.

We’d check back at the Bug for its closing set to see the Stanton Warriors attract a big audience, but it still felt more intimate as we watched the pair mix from decks on the back of a truck. Soon we were back at the Spider for the end of Danny Byrd’s set which was a driving force of drum & bass before the spider fell silent for a live performance by Aboriginal tribe the Yallor Keeninyara. Their ceremony, the Wadjuk Noongar, was brought to life with live chants and moves, eventually welcoming the crowd to dance with them beneath the spider as their flag was hoisted up by a crane on top of the spider’s legs and the first flames spat out it’s head. Huge roars of approval indicated a cultural bond had been formed, and it was time for the final acts to kick the festival into top gear.

Rudimental’s spider set was one full of hits that enabled the crowd to singalong while their trumpet player added a live zest. ‘Not Giving In’, ‘Waiting All Night’ and ‘Feel the Love’ brought the biggest chorus of voices for a real triumph of a set. We’d briefly take a final peak in The Reactor to see what they light show had become to be dazzled by a tent chock-full of lasers and elements of the five-minute showcases such as the mirror-people and Triple Helix lasers had become part of the accompaniment to the DJs - in this case Delta Heavy. Arcadia claimed in the day’s programme that The Reactor will form a major part of how they develop their shows, and on this evidence it’s looking like an exciting one.

The centrepiece to the Arcadia ‘spectacular’ is always their Metamorphasis show which sees a tale unfold of aliens landing on Earth, plucking members of the public from the crowd via cranes on top of the spider and seeing them morph into LED-glowing beings while flames roar and fireworks fly through the sky. The circus skills involved are impressive, while the costume changes in front of your eyes defy belief - there’s a genuine mystique about it all, especially the Lords of Lightning who command thousands of volts of electricity over their bodies. Coming in at about 30 minutes, the whole site was captivated and the heat of those flames could be felt even from afar.

With a wealth of music festivals in London every summer, it was refreshing to see an event geared around a specatcle that stands alone from the music, rather than being a spectacle purely owing to its size. Organisers LWE seemed to get the right number of bars and toilets, even if the site felt tight around the spider and The Reactor, although there were sizable queues for the token booths and, understandably, drinking water taps. A big positive is that with Elrow Town London in August, sound levels continue to be excellent at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but this day was the Arcadia spider’s.

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